In his first fall convocation as Northern Michigan University president, Brock Tessman said he wants to learn from and steward Northern's proud history while enacting new ideas and initiatives built around a central goal: promoting student success and narrowing equity gaps so that every student has an opportunity to “reach the finish line.” With the largest incoming class in years and a solid budget, he said the university is well-positioned to plan for the future with some stability.
“Leadership is about learning and listening, but then actually stretching our collective vision and charting a new path,” Tessman said. “While it's not entirely up to me to set the vision, I think the vision has to start and end with our people. Our strength is defined by our exceptional people and their talents. The faculty and staff are deeply committed to our students and each other; some have decades of experience and wisdom to share.
“Our students come here and enrich us with their increasingly complex, thoughtful world views, and with their varied backgrounds, ethnicities and identities—all of the nuances that help make our university great. Students are the reason we're here and we're all about student success. Like many universities, Northern can do even better in this area. Too many students don't complete their studies. It's because of the systems we have in place that can be tweaked and improved to unleash their full potential.”
To facilitate that process, Tessman outlined five pillars of his leadership structure—three new and two existing—that focus on maximizing investment in, and support of, students, faculty and staff. He also identified the “ambitious, high-impact” priority project corresponding to each pillar that was designed over the summer and will be executed this academic year.
The People, Culture and Wellbeing pillar aligns Northern's efforts to develop greater Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) on campus, expand professional development opportunities for employees, and find new ways of promoting wellbeing for all. Tessman announced a new child care partnership with Gretchen's House that will aid NMU students and employees (read more here). As part of the “Designing Development and Opportunity” priority project, the Human Resources team and staff union leadership have met to discuss establishing a formalized staff development program to enhance professional knowledge and skills. They have also created a survey to better understand the career development priorities of staff employees. The survey results, combined with focus group discussions with staff employees and managers, will feed the creation of an enhanced onboarding process with a foundational staff orientation experience, and a robust development program that will include a focus on wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, and service experiences.
The Student Affairs and Success pillar involves strategically deploying academic advising resources, career development services and programming, and student services units in order to substantially improve retention, persistence and completion rates across all academic disciplines. The priority project, (Re)Designing Advising for Student Success and Equity, is described in greater depth here.
The Northern Student Experience pillar represents a bold commitment to further enhance the campus life experience that NMU provides for its students. The priority project in this will be designing support for local/commuter students. This includes the following: creating specifically targeted opportunities to invite local middle schoolers and high schoolers to campus to engage in new and creative academic, athletic and social activities during the summer months; and crafting tailored events for prospective students that resonate with their interests and aspirations. This academic year will focus on efforts to design a more connected commuter community by reimagining orientation, increasing engagement in typical commuter student campus spaces (Harden Hall, lounges in academic building, the Northern Center, etc.), finding opportunities to more frequently weave together housing and commuter students, and expanding touch points for relationship and community building that enhance the commuter student's sense of belonging on campus.
The existing Finance and Administration pillar will address a sustainable, student-centered campus infrastructure fueled by major projects completed or in progress. This includes integrated resources in the new WellBeing Center (read for more detailed information here) and new research laboratory space and equipment that will soon be available in Weston Hall. The Harden Hall renovation design includes new study and learning spaces above ground and dedicated student union space on the ground floor. Sustainable development—from design and energy use to waste production—guides all of these projects.
The Academic Affairs pillar will embark on a three-phase project to create an inclusive campus devoid of barriers to meaningful educational and work experiences. The phases are: conducting an overview of current mobility and accessibility points across campus and creating a publicly available interactive map detailing them; neurodivergent programming for new and current students requesting such programming, so as to ensure their belonging and educational success; and engaging the Diversity and Inclusion Office on a detailed, systematic plan that increases our diversity within the faculty ranks.
On a related note, a national search is underway for an assistant vice president for Diversity and Inclusion who will ideally start in early 2024. NMU has also launched a search for a permanent provost.
To orient himself to the NMU presidency since officially assuming the post in February, Tessman has engaged in informal learning opportunities, along with intentional outreach to NMU academic departments/offices and key stakeholders in the community, K-12 education and state legislature. He pledged to improve communication on campus through increased visibility and meetings, and to hold a university assembly that will serve as an “information clearinghouse” to ensure campus and broader community stakeholders are on the same page as they move forward together.
“This coming year is also about planning,” he said. “About one year from today, we will adopt a new long-range strategic plan, kick off the public phase of the comprehensive fundraising campaign and celebrate the 125th anniversary of this great university.”
Watch the convocation in its entirety here.